Don’t be a stranger

There was a time when I had a pool and hired a contractor to close my pool for the season. My contact Pete (I didn’t know it at the time, but he’s also the owner) was terrific: he set the appointment, let me know exactly what to expect, told me what the cost would be and what could change that cost, and explained the benefit of the service. He called me the day before our appointment to confirm the time, and he showed up right on time—after sending a text to let me know he was on the way. It was a great experience, and I just plain liked Pete.

Fast forward to March, when I was eager to make arrangements to get the pool open. I couldn’t remember the name of the company I’d liked so much in the fall, and I hadn’t put it in my Home Maintenance Evernote file. I went through emails and my calendar without success. Because I remembered something about a P, I looked at companies with names like Pinnacle, Premier, Popular, and the like, and I hired one of those companies since I couldn’t find the original.

And the service was ok. No reminder call, but a quick response when I called to confirm. The work wasn’t done perfectly, but it was adequate. I didn’t think much of it and probably would have continued with the new company, except that I had a few issues with the pool and wasn’t getting the kind of response I wanted. I eventually went through my checkbook register to find Summit again, and I got the same fast, capable, friendly service. This time, I put Summit (and Pete) in my phone and in my Evernote database.

Do I hear a great big SO WHAT?

What does this have to do with practicing law?

If you do large, complex matters, chances are reasonably good that your clients know exactly who you are and how to find you if they want to hire you again or send a potential client your way. However,  if your matters tend to be of relatively short duration, with limited direct contact, or somewhat routine, you could be missing out on repeat business and referrals if you don’t proactively stay in touch. Consider these steps:

  1. Send reminders if the work you do should be reviewed and updated periodically (estate work and some contracts, for example). An email or postcard will suffice. Schedule these reminders as soon as you complete the matter.
  2. Send follow-up resources. Perhaps there’s a logical next step for your client. Establishing a new company could lead to later needs like contract review, intellectual property protection, or a buy/sale agreement, among many others. Provide appropriate resources at an appropriate interval. This too should be scheduled as soon as you complete your work for the client.
  3. Keep in touch. Sometimes you don’t need a specific reason for a contact. Depending on the representation and your relationship, it may be quite appropriate to send an email or call to touch base. You might inquire how things have been going since the matter ended. But here’s the key point: you must be genuinely interested, not just trolling for new work. (Where appropriate, an electronic or hardcopy newsletter offers an opportunity to stay in touch without taking the time to make every contact individually.)

Here’s the bottom line: don’t put the onus of finding you or updating the work you’ve done solely on your client. Friendly and useful ongoing contact is a benefit for your client and potentially a path to new work for you.

Clients aren’t property.

An interesting article to share with you:

Law Firms Leaders’ Moneyball Mistake: Written by Steven Harper, author of the can’t-miss book The Lawyer Bubble, this article points out the problems with large firms’ “aggressive inorganic growth” via lateral hires. Harper quotes Group Dewey Consulting’s Eric Dewey’s observation that, “An attorney needs to bring roughly 70 percent of their book of business with them within 12 months just to break even,” and that “more than one-third bring with them less than 50 percent.”

Why should you care? If you’re in a large firm, understanding these issues is important in considering firm growth and your own professional options. If you’re in a smaller firm, the lessons may still attain.

More importantly, the article offers the reminder that clients are not property. Whether you’re planning to bring or receive portable business, or whether you’re planning to inherit a book of business from a retiring attorney, it’s important that you understand that successfully requesting any kind of client shift depends on trust and a strong relationship that extends to the new situation.

And so it’s important to be building trust and relationships with your clients even if you have no intention of asking them to follow you to a new firm or to work with your designee when you leave practice. It’s too late to do that work when a change is imminent, and in the absence of a trusting attorney/client relationship, you may find your client shifting work to another lawyer or firm.

What will you do with this information today?

How do you establish trust?

You’ve probably heard some version of Bob Burg’s statement that “All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

We tend to focus on getting known, we work to communicate in a way that increases the chances of being liked, but how do you build trust? I like this answer:


What does this mean in the context of business development and the practice of law? Ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that everything you do increases (or at least doesn’t decrease) your trustworthiness. For example:

  • Return calls and emails within a reasonable time. (Extra points for letting your contacts know when they should expect to hear from you.)
  • If you say you’ll do something (whether it’s billable work or following up on a conversation), do it at the time and in the way you said you would.
  • If you send a newsletter, send it consistently.
  • If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, say so and promise a follow-up—and then follow up when you said you would or sooner.
  • If you’re wrong about something or you make a mistake, own up to it. Explain if necessary, but don’t make excuses.
  • Be findable in the groups and publications where someone in your field would ordinarily be found. (If you’re an elder law attorney, for example, you might be a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.)
  • Have a professional presence both offline and online that fits your practice. (Your “vibe” will be likely different if you work with musicians than if you serve Fortune 100 companies, for instance.)

These are just a few examples of how you might do your part to appear and be trustworthy. What opportunities do you see in your own practice?

Don’t make assumptions.

I ran across this quote recently:

So true, isn’t it? And yet, we all tend to make assumptions.

  • This client is thrilled with our engagement; this one isn’t.
  • That target client is represented and is no interest in moving; that one understands the legal situation that’s cropped up and but can’t (or won’t) spend the money to resolve it.
  • That contact knows what kind of work I do and knows I’d like to get referrals.

What assumptions are you making that may affect your business development success? How can you test them?